The Best Way to Prepare for Working with a CPA
This is an open letter to all the people that may have a desire to work with a CPA / CPA firm.
I get emails all the time that start with: "I think I need a CPA," usually followed with a quick backstory of the person's business, and then finished with "Can you call me to discuss your rates?"
While there’s nothing wrong with the general query, you want to make sure you’re ready for that call. Get the information you need to decide if this is the right person for you to work with.
The first step is to think through what you want from a CPA
What compliance headaches don’t you want to do anymore because they take too much time away from your actual business? What financial information would you like to know that you currently don’t? What problems would you like to avoid?
For example, can a CPA:
Answer your basic business, accounting, and tax related questions when needed
Train and advise you on how to do your own bookkeeping and/or use your accounting software
Clean-up/Organize the bookkeeping you have already prepared (or attempted to). Or close your books (prepare completed financial statements) at the end of the month, quarter, or year
Prepare your monthly or quarterly sales tax returns
Prepare your payroll checks with withholdings and direct deposit to your employees
Prepare and file your quarterly or annual payroll tax returns (including W-2s and 1099's at the end of the year)
Prepare your annual individual and/or corporate tax return
Perform quarterly estimates for income tax and discuss decisions that impact tax liability, aka "Tax Planning"
Structure or Restructure corporate entity for ease of compliance and/or best tax treatment
Help you prepare documents for loan applications
Review your previous years of tax returns to see if there are any obvious missed opportunities worth doing an amendment for
Provide business/management advice beyond the numbers and taxes
Now you’ve figured out what you need/want, next we get to that second part of the original query “discuss your rates.”
I personally don't believe in an "hourly rate" – you should really be thinking in terms of budgets, flat fees, pay for service.
Often you and even the CPA don’t know how long something might take or it might change from one month to the next, so getting a low hourly rate might sound good up front but if for some reason something takes longer than you think it should – you have a problem. Best to agree to a fee upfront for a particular service, that way you know exactly what you’re paying and what you’re getting. No surprises.
So have a budget in mind for your previously determined list of services – and rank those services into three groups:
What’s critical, these are items you need a CPA for and are the core reason’s you want to hire a CPA
What you would like but can you live without and
What would be nice to have but don’t really need or you’re ok doing yourself
It’s my experience that what services you want and how much you’re able/willing to pay don’t always coincide. That’s pretty much human nature. Therefore, we’ve ranked them so you and the CPA can come to a balancing point where you can fit your most critical services and as much of group 2 and 3 items as you can into your budget.
Now you’re almost ready for that call. You know what you need, which of those things are most important to you and how much you’re willing to spend.
A few more things you should determine on that call before deciding:
Does the CPA’s background meet your needs – do they have the general experience needed, industry experience needed, licensing needed?
Do their business values align with yours?
Do their work styles meet your needs? (i.e. do you prefer calls or email)
Are they people you feel you can trust your business and personal information to? Very import – trust your gut. You have to be willing to trust this person with very personal information. If you’re not comfortable find someone else.
Obviously, this will probably require a long conversation to get an understanding of all the above from that CPA – so schedule a time so you both can focus on the conversation and get everything you need out of it. It’s a big decision and one you don’t want to rush into or take lightly.
When you’ve done the prep work above and you're ready to work with a CPA.